I was used to writing only for myself, in notebooks, but when the editor of the Times received a letter from prison concerning me I knew somebody must be paying attention. I have since learned that 90 percent of the time people write in to newspapers or book publishers when they have nothing better to do and something to complain about. This description fit the author of the letter from Marion Correctional Center.

He had been an elected official. As often happens, he had been convicted of tax evasion or some other financial crime. He wrote:

It was with great interest that I read Greg Holden’s new column “So It Goes” in your paper the other day. I, in fact, wrote a column for a local paper in downstate Illinois that was intended for the edification of my constituents. It was also called “So It Goes.” Upon my release from this institution, I hope to resume writing this column. So I would ask that Mr. Holden stop using this name as it is an obvious attempt to do something literary, when in fact he’s plagiarizing my original inspiration.

I sat in the steel office chair with sweaty palms, but Burns just smiled. “You didn’t get the title from this guy’s column, did you?” I explained that no, the phrase came from a book by Kurt Vonnegut: God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater. Burns composed a letter in response stating that this worthy man didn’t actually own the phrase “So It Goes,” and added that he should be focused on improving his own situation.

I left there feeling like a star. Someone I never met had actually taken notice of me and something I wrote. It didn’t matter who he was or where he was from. I was a journalist. Just as Mayor Daley regarded Mike Royko as his nemisis, I had someone who disliked me, too. I swaggered down Prospect Avenue past my old Catholic grade school, St. Euthanasia’s, and I wanted to open the door and shout, “Somebody hates me!” No one was safe in this town now. I was free to explore the political intrigues, the societal tensions, and the criminal underworld of this seemingly sleepy suburban town. I would dissect the population with the unwavering, incisive eye of a Nelson Algren.

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